Zillow – The Pros and Cons of Clicking “Contact Agent”

We are all using online real estate aggregators like Zillow and when we do, lurking ever so persistently is a button to click to get more information, the “Contact Agent” button.  Once clicked, down the rabbit hole you may go. We are going to talk about “Contact Agent” buttons and your experience when you give them a click.

Zillow and others have become a kind of master MLS. They aggregate property information from almost every possible source and pull it together into one convenient service which makes it the go-to for most of us.  They built a better mousetrap.  And that button is the trigger.

To start, we need to understand that Zillow and other aggregators are businesses. They provide a free service to you which is paid for by advertisers.  In this case, a significant portion of the advertising revenue generated by Zillow is paid by licensed real estate agents and brokers.  These agents and brokers show up along with the properties on your screen.

Zillow was among the pioneers of the real estate aggregators and it has developed over time beating or buying its competitors to become one of the most dominant players in this industry. With an audience interested in real estate beating a path to its door, Zillow then executes its business plan.  They make a deal with agents to get those agents in front of you for an opportunity to connect.  For a certain price, which varies by area, they will give an agent a certain “percentage of voice”.  This means that agents pay them to show up on your screen and the amount they pay is equivalent to how often they show up as an option you can click on for more information.  As their model progresses, it becomes an auction with the agents and brokers as the bidders.  And it’s always changing.

There is nothing evil going on here, but it can be misleading.  Many who click to learn more think they are connecting with the listing agent but find themselves connected to a buyer’s agent.  Many would agree you might be better represented by a buyer’s agent.  Listing agents themselves would argue to the contrary for fairly obvious reasons.

Often, when a buyer first starts getting into the idea of buying a property, they’ll go to an online aggregator like Zillow.com or Realtor.com and start clicking on properties they are interested in, asking for more information by clicking a button.  Suddenly, their phone starts ringing, their email notifications start chiming and their eyes get bigger.  Every click has started an outreach and follow up system of its own, carefully orchestrated by the aggregator’s system and the systems of those agents and brokers who paid to participate.

Zillow’s and other aggregator’s value and services, if used as intended, can all result in a win-win situation if the agent cares for and follows up with their clients as common sense would dictate.  If you’ve clicked the “Contact Agent” or similar button on a number of different occasions, you were likely connected with different agents and had a different experience with each.

Your experience will vastly differ from agent to agent.  You might get a brand-new agent who has paid so they can get their first leads.  You might get a seasoned professional who, while incredibly competent, might seem skeptical because they know only about 3% of the connections that they make via an aggregator will result in a completed deal.  Or you might connect with an agent with a ton of 5-star reviews who has a huge team of agents working with them only to be tossed off to one of their newest agents.  Each has a different personality and level of intelligence.

The good news is that you should soon connect with an agent that is relatively smart, kind, and trustworthy and who has a work ethic and sincere interest in you and is committed to helping you find a great home.

When you find someone like this, it’s time to change up the system a little.  You should let them know you like them and the way they do business and that you’d like to use them exclusively in your search.  To Zillow and other online aggregator’s credit, they have a system that can connect you directly with that agent going forward, notifying only your preferred agent of the properties you’d like more information on.  This stops the deluge of different agents contacting you and it builds a stronger relationship with one which should significantly increase their focus and dedication.  Just let them know and they’ll send you a link that allows you to choose them as your dedicated agent on their platform.

Searching for and buying a home should be an exciting and fun experience.  Online aggregators have significantly increased access to information and changed the landscape dramatically.  In many cases, in very good ways.  In tandem, the industry is more regulated, negotiations more complicated, and opportunities for a deal to the wrong way are increasing.

Online aggregators are providing a wonderful service in sharing the vast array of properties available for sale with anyone interested at no cost.  While the initial deluge of agents you might come across can feel oppressive, it very likely will put you in contact with an agent who may become an incredible trusted resource you want to stay connected with for many years to come.